Managing the Durand Line: Stakeholder Perspectives

June 16, 2022

By Hanzala Khan

MPhil Quaid-e-Azam University 2018


The current Pakistan-Afghanistan border – also known as the Durand Line – was drawn during the British Raj as a buffer zone in a geopolitical contest between the British and the Russian empires.73 When Pakistan gained independence in 1947, it inherited the Durand Line, which now forms the international border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, Pak-Afghan relations have not always been friendly, and at times have been marked by pronounced hostility due to the contested nature of the Durand Line.74 The Durand Line and its adjacent areas were a hotspot during the Cold War due to their geo-strategic importance. After the US led War on Terror, these areas became a safe haven for reclusive Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.75 A particular reason for continuous militancy in the border region is the porous nature of the border.76 Further, due to illegal movement and cross border attacks, the Pak-Afghan border came to be viewed as a vital security problem for Pakistan. This prompted a debate in the country about the appropriate border management of the Durand Line,77 and with increased cross border attacks, border management emerged a core issue between Pakistan and Afghanistan as both countries blamed each other for terrorism in their respective countries. The decision of fencing the border was taken after the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. The chalking out of the National Action Plan in 2015 and the admission of TTP’s former spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan of support from Afghan and Indian intelligence agencies, further advocated for effective measures for border control. This compelled Pakistan to unilaterally install vigorous border management including fences, trenches, security forts and a surveillance system. However, different voices including that of the Afghanistan government as well as civil society in Pakistan have raised reservations regarding this unilateral action.

Research Objective, Questions, Methodology and Framework:

This study is an attempt to understand the Pakistani initiatives of managing the Durand Line. It asks, what are the initiatives taken by Pakistan to secure its border effectively in the post 9/11 era and whether the official stance of Pakistan and Afghanistan, coincide or differ with the perceptions of local communities and civil society on border management? The study uses the theoretical framework of Integrated Border Management (IBM), a concept developed by the European Union in 2001 to ensure more secure borders as a part of its internal security strategy.78 IBM is a pro-active solution which reduces loopholes at an institutional, infrastructural and human resource level by establishing robust coordination to achieve the objective of open, but well protected borders.79 Through intra-service cooperation of IBM, integration of operational capacities, and definition of management practices and information sharing within agencies, all forms of cross-border infiltrations can be combatted. Similarly, cooperation between officials on both sides of the border is vital for proper border security which can be achieved through joint agreements, regional and international initiatives and by conducting joint actions.80 The research is qualitative in nature. Primary data was collected by interviewing experts on Pak-Afghan affairs both from Pakistan and Afghanistan, by interviewing journalists especially from the tribal belt, and by interviewing the local people of the area. Further, secondary data was taken from journals, newspapers, articles, books, content analysis and internet sources etc.

Pakistan’s Border Management Initiatives:

The phased fencing of the Pak-Afghan border started in mid-2017 with 432 km of fence set up in high [militant] infiltration areas like Bajaur and Mohmand Agencies, whereas areas like Khyber and Kurram agencies comprising 400km length, will be fenced later.81 About 150-kilometers of fencing in Bajaur, Mohmand and Khyber agencies is complete.82 A total of 338 border posts and small military fortifications are to be constructed by the end of 2019.83 Advanced surveillance technologies like drones, radars and control systems have also been deployed along the border.84 Gates in different agencies to facilitate legal entries are going to be constructed.85 Moreover, it is now necessary to present valid travel documents in order to cross the border. Pakistani passport is now mandatory for cross-border movement by Pakistani nationals with the exception of Shinwari tribesmen who have been granted special ‘rahdari’ (permit) status.86 Initiatives for regulating trade with Afghanistan like National Tax Number, import permission, payment receipts, grading certificate, certificate from the chamber of commerce to check drugs and smuggling have also been made a part of the management process.87 Afghanistan’s Stance on Border Management: Afghanistan has always rejected any unilateral initiatives to fence the border88 and argues that unilateral actions along the Durand Line will be ineffective without Afghanistan’s agreement. The Afghan embassy’s political advisor argues that fencing will only deepen the mistrust on both sides of the border with serious implications for both countries.89 Others consider fencing a harsh reality of dividing local peoples on both sides of the border. According to Mehdi Ahmad Munadi, Head of the Research Institute, Centre for Strategic Studies (CSS), Kabul, “The problem is deep rooted and fencing will simply divide the people which can have serious implications. People to people management is needed which will help in combating the issue properly”.90 In addition, Senior Policy and Program Advisor, Ministry of Education, Afghanistan, Dr Attaullah Wahidyar made the same assertion on fencing the border. He said, “Border management is not an issue but fencing the border is. Efforts are needed to get rid of the terrorists’ safe havens on both sides of the border. Greater economic integration is necessary which will help in improving bilateral ties. This fencing will dim the prospects of any cooperation between the two states”.91

Pakistan’s Official Stance on Fencing: Pakistan insists that fencing is instrumental in both monitoring cross-border movement of militants as well as in tackling smuggling. According to Pakistani officials, the presence of militants in Afghanistan makes the fencing necessary.92 The then Foreign Minister Khwaja Asif insisted that the only aim of the fence is elimination of terrorism. Objections on the fence are meaningless when there are already examples of such measures in other parts of the world.93 The security officials are very much cognizant about the significance of border fencing. According to Major General Nauman Zakaria, Commanding Officer in South Waziristan, the fence is an epoch shift which will bring the whole border area under observation once the process is completed.94 Similarly, Maj. Gen (R) Ijaz Hussain Awan was of the view that the “ungoverned zone” in Afghanistan makes Pakistan vulnerable to terrorist attacks compelling Pakistan to secure its border. The only way left for Pakistan was to fence the border to check cross border attacks from Afghanistan.95 However, the management initiatives have received mixed reviews from the local people and intellectuals.

Views of Civil Society on Border Management: The Pakistani civil society of academics, intellectuals, journalists, and members of Parliament are divided on the issue – though most have reservations about fencing the border. Those who agree with fencing see no other option in resolving cross border terrorism. Musa Khan Jalalzai, a UK based Afghan affairs expert, states in his analysis that “..fencing can help in intercepting terrorist’s infiltration from across the Durand Line. It may possibly be effective in weakening insurgent forces. This can stop the blame game between the two countries”.96 Dr. Noreen Naseerargues that “fencing becomes critical due to the emergence of Daesh in the Nangarhar province bordering Pakistan. They regularly infiltrate into the Fata region and carry out deadly attacks. The illegal trade and smuggling in the border region is the main source of terror financing which needs to be managed effectively in the whole management framework”.97 Some accept fencing as a valid step from Pakistan’s side, but also consider addressing the militant issue as more than fencing the border. Peshawar based BBC Correspondent Rehmanullah argues that fencing will not be easy considering the border terrain but after the tragic events of Peshawar Army Public School, the government was forced to take this step as infiltration was a serious threat to Pakistan’s security.98 Others disagree that fencing will make much of a difference while emphasizing that its cost on the human element and on the relationship with Afghanistan will be too high. Pushtoon Intellectual and former Awami National Party (ANP) Parliamentarian, Latif Afridi does not consider fencing as a viable solution to stop cross border infiltration. He argues that fences never solve issues between states and unilateral measures will further de-escalate bilateral ties with Afghanistan with serious implications for the region. Instead, tackling terrorism needs a commonly devised approach encompassing all elements. This requires a radical change in Pakistan’s foreign policy, respect for Afghan sovereignty and non-interference in Afghan internal affairs.99 Similarly, the ANP leader and former Senator Afrasaib Khattak is of the view that fencing the border is primarily military driven and needs to be debated in the parliament as local people have not been consulted which is causing alienation among them. Additionally, it is not earning Pakistan any goodwill in Afghanistan.100 Some interviewees emphasized on keeping the human element at the forefront. They argue that fencing will not stop militant infiltration but rather, it will divide the tribes living along the border. In an interview with Voice of America Pushto Service, Pakistan’s former Ambassador to Afghanistan, Rustam Shah Mohmand said that fencing will have no major counterterrorism impact. However, it will violate “easement rights,” which recognize the right to free movement of tribes along the border. It will thus harm millions for a few terrorists who can easily find new ways to move across the border”.101 Instead, ending no-go areas and giving comprehensive constitutional and economic uplift to the border region of Fata can help in improving the security situation. In this context, Dr. Fazal Saeed argues that, “The recent measures taken by Pakistan pose no good gesture. It is obviously going to add to the misery of local people. The no-go areas with no direct constitutional control in the areas of FATA provide edifice to militant organizations. Elimination of non-state actors, promotion of better ties between the two governments, economic activities and trust building are alternatives to fencing.”102 Ambassador (Retd.) Muhammad Sadiq suggests that it is time to debunk the myths linked with the Durand Line. Fencing the border will not stop criminal infiltration. The legal crossings should be made easier and not problematic, which will otherwise alienate the people. Additionally, the colonial system of Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) needs structural reforms to make the border region safer.103

Perspective of the Local Population: Based on the above, it becomes critical to assess the perspective of the local population, who are the most important stakeholders. Like members of civil society, there is no consensus about fencing among the local population living in the border regions. The people living very close to the border areas generally support fencing while those living away from the border are skeptical about new management initiatives. During interviews with local people in the area of Charmang and Mahmond in Bajaur Agency near the PakAfghan border, they said that they are in favour of proper management of the border as TTP’s Qari Zia group had bases very near to the Pak-Afghan border in the Kunar province, from where they launched cross border attacks. Moreover once the Pakistan Army started fencing the area, the number of attacks reduced.104 In an interview with Shah G from Kurram Agency, he stated that “the majority of people support proper border management as the emergence of ISIS is a worry for the Shia community of Kurram Agency. The fencing and border management will stop their infiltration into the area”. 105 Similarly, according to Anwarullah Khan, a Dawn News reporter in Bajaur Agency, “fencing is the only option for the Pakistani military to safeguard the border. Establish ment of new posts and other modern surveillance means are necessary to manage the border effectively”.106 A local tribal chief from Bajaur agency, (who wished to remain unnamed due to security issues) goes a step further and says that “the tribal people have suffered a lot from the free movement of all kinds of militants. Pakistan should have fenced the border much earlier.”107 In contrast, Fazal Malik, a resident of the border region is of the opinion that border management is a bilateral issue and both states must build a level of trust with each other. Unilateral measures will further complicate the issue by affecting the social and economic lives of the already marginalized people living here.108 Others consider that a soft border management approach has more benefits for both the neighbors. According to Illam Khan, providing easy access to the markets of Afghanistan and Pakistan can change the violent motives into peaceful ones while fencing will only further create a love for irredentism. Instead, a systematic management approach will solve the problem by improving business opportunities on both sides of the border.109 Rizwan Shinwari goes a step further. He says that “understanding the issues and respecting the sovereignty of each other is vital. Bilateral trade should be increased to mutually benefit each other. The region is now ungoverned, and it is creating a space for other unwanted forces. They can introduce other methodologies for managing it”.110


As a result of increased cross border attacks by TTP militants, Pakistan decided to unilaterally manage the Pak-Afghan border through fences, trenches and other modern surveillance systems. However, this management plan has been rejected by Afghanistan. It argues that fencing the border unilaterally is illegal and will further alienate the local people. Pakistan conversely argues that these objections are meaningless as the security vacuum in the border region makes Pakistan vulnerable to terrorist attacks, and the purpose of the fence is only to stop TTP militants’ infiltration from Afghanistan.Expert opinion varies on fencing based on ethnic ties and trade issues related to the border. A larger number of intellectuals, experts and local people agree to fencing but with additional border management steps like involving local people, considering cross border ethnic linkages, and making legal entries easy on both sides of the border. For example, the local people at Torkham crossing point have the view that border management is essential, but the process is very complicated and lengthy and due to these restrictions, trade has dropped significantly leading to serious impact on the local people.111 Experts argue that the management process needs proper legislation as conceived in the IBM, which must be debated in the parliament. Some experts argue that Pakistan, as advocated in IBM, should seek the cooperation of Afghanistan and utilize other platforms like Tri-Partite Commission between the NATO-led ISAF, Afghanistan and Pakistan for better management of the border. According to some experts and local people, cross border movement – perceived as a real security issue – requires enhancing inter-agency and intra-agency cooperation among agencies deployed on both sides of the border as advocated in IBM. Local people also contend that other alternatives like involving the local people, greater people to people contact, and Fata mainstreaming through a massive economic integration program are more viable options which can stabilize the border region.

Policy Recommendations:

Use the Integrated Border Management (IBM) model to improve border security and minimize illegal movement across the border through proper legislation regarding border management; institutional linkages and coordination among the various border agencies on both sides of the border as well as the involvement of communities living along the border; and by facilitating entries and bilateral trade through legal crossings. Utilize diplomatic initiative to pressurize Afghanistan for establishing an effective joint border mechanism. Pakistan can use different regional and international platforms such as the Tripartite Commission between the NATO-led ISAF, Afghanistan and Pakistan to convince Afghanistan to establish joint border mechanisms. Stabilize and mainstream the border region through a comprehensive political and economic program as these areas are key to peace and stability of the country. Comprehensive social and economic aid is needed to help eliminate decades-long sense of alienation and deprivation among FATA residents, to be able to restore their trust.


Interview with Dr Attaullah Wahedyar, a senior Policy and Program advisor, Ministry of education, Afghanistan on the sidelines of two days international conference on “Achieving peace in Afghanistan: Challenges and Prospects” 10th May 2017. Interview with Hidayatullah Sherzad, Afghan embassy political advisor, Islamabad, 10th December 2018. Interview with Sayed. Mehdi Munadi, Head of Research, Centre for Strategic Studies (CSS) Kabul, Afghanistan, on the sidelines of two days international conference on “Achieving peace in Afghanistan: Challenges and Prospects” 10th May 2017. Interview with Rehmanullah, BBC Corresponding in Peshawar, 10th November 2017. Interview with Rizwan Shinwari, from Khyber Agency, is a Ph.D. at the Centre for Peace and Conflict studies at National University of Science and Technology (NUST), 09th November 2017. Interview with Advocate Latif Afridi, Pushtoon Intellectual and Ex Parliamentarian, 22nd December 2017.Interview with Ambassador ® Muhammad Sadiq, former ambassador of Pakistan to Afghanistan and former National Security Secretary on the side lines of 6th International conference “Dynamics of Change in Pak-Afghan region: Politics on Borderland” 20th August 2017. Interview with Maj. Gen® Ijaz Hussain Awan (HI) on the sidelines of two days international conference on “Achieving peace in Afghanistan: Challenges and Prospects” 10th May 2017. Interview with Musa Khan Jalalzai, Jalalzai is an US based Afghan national who has numerous books on the borderland between Pakistan and Afghanistan and regularly contributes in daily newspapers, 23rd November 2017. Interview with Dr Noreen Naseer, Assistant professor Department of Political Science University of Peshawar, 23rd December 2017. Interview with Anwerullah Khan, Dawn news reporter in Bajour Agency, 10th December 2017. Interview with Fazal Malik, a PhD student at University of Peshawar and a resident of border village, charming in Bajaur Agency, 11th December 2018. Interview with Illam Khan, a resident of Bajour Agency and a Ph.D. student at the Centre for Peace and Conflict studies at National University of Science and Technology (NUST) , 09th November 2017. Interviews with local people in Tarkham 18th November 2017. Interview with local people in Bajour Agency 12th November 2017

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